Contrast and Orchestration

Working on my current project ‘I Paint Music‘, it’s difficult to write an aggressive effect, because the tutti sound of strings and tuba/euphonium is very warm and fuzzy. I might have to reconsider this orchestration, because it might not be suitable for a more aggressive and contrasting passage I’m planning. But to do that properly, I have to think about ORCHESTRATION and CONTRAST.

I think that every composer feels SOUND-COLORS differently. Every composer has his/her own favorite ORCHESTRATION. And since a favored ORCHESTRATION provides a favored feel, the MUSIC will flow accordingly. In this sence, a choice for a particular orchestration already defines the feel of the music you are going te write.

Choosing a warm, fuzzy ORCHESTRATION, means the composer already decided not to go everywhere the VOICE of MUSIC wants to go. Certain emotional area’s are blocked. Like the music of William Vaughams’ ‘The Lark ascending’. It’s warm, nice, comforting. Though it’s very beautiful, it’s not true about life. It’s more true to the dream of what life could be.

Is the orchestration defining the emotion of the whole composition?

Integrity: How Contrasts in Orchestration influence Form.

To think properly about CONTRAST in a composition, I have to rethink ORCHESTRATION:

  1. The SOUND-COLOR of an ORCHESTRATION: The feel, the emotion of a particular orchestration in a moment.
  2. The CONTRAST of SOUND-COLORS: The effect of changing ORCHESTRATION, between moments, over TIME.

Ad. 1

Discussing ‘HIM’, by Stephen Melillo, I already wrote that I can make any harmonic sound warm by ORCHESTRATION. That means that I can also make any harmonic sound mean and aggressive by using a cold, attacking orchestration. I can compose a hurtful ORCHESTRATION by choosing, for example, loud trombones in staccato, snare-drums and scratching a Tam-Tam.

Composing a sound-color in the moment is not difficult to imagine

The ORCHESTRATION results in a SOUND (timbre, dynamics, articulation) in SPACE (density, volume), resulting in a standing SOUND-COLOR.

Ad. 2

Writing a CONTRAST becomes complex when TIME gets involved: we have to deal with the INTEGRITY of SOUND, SPACE, TIME and FORM.

Composing a CONTRAST of sound-colors over time IS difficult to imagine

I think a contrasting, aggressive composition will only sound GREAT, when INTEGRITY is respected:

  • a big CONTRAST, means
  • a big change in ORCHESTRATION, means
  • a big change in SPACE, means
  • that FORM must provide enough TIME for that SPACE to emerge, where
  • that particular SOUND-COLOR thrives in.

Composing a CONTRAST by changing ORCHESTRATION over TIME, will only work properly when I consider INTEGRITY.

Contrast, hitting, waves and walls. Martial Arts has it all. (Photo by Snapwire on

Contrasting Waves and Walls

And when we think about the FORM of WAVES hitting WALLS: The WAVES have a driving effect, but could also obscure the WALLS they will hit. The WAVES give a direction towards the WALL, but also decrease the CONTRAST towards the WALL.

It might be a conclusion, that this idea only works, when ORCHESTRATION of the WAVES and the WALLS CONTRAST enough. This orchestration is found in many works, where the waves are fast runs by clarinets or violins and the walls are hard brass kicks. The woods providing the drive, the brass smacking the waves.

It will be interesting to explore these ideas, to see how SPACE works in this kind of orchestrianal constructions with orchestrated waves and walls.

By Anneloes Wolters